March 26, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Where Did Teens Live? Honey, it's time to mow the ... house?

Photo courtesy of sscornelius at Flickr Commons
There is a famous photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of a cow standing on the roof of a sod house munching away on the grass that grew there (click on the Extras tab, then click on the first reference to see the picture). Did cows really enjoy their lunch on the roofs of houses?  They did, if the house was made of sod and was dug into the hillside.  Although push lawnmowers were in use in the 1880’s, it seems unlikely that the settlers used them to mow their roofs.  After all, a cow was a much more efficient mower of grass and had the added bonus of providing the family with milk.
The first settlers built their houses near rivers and streams so they could use the trees for log houses and for firewood.  By the time later settlers arrived, the trees were largely gone and they were forced to find other building materials.  On the Great Plains, there was grass, grass, and more grass.  So the settlers turned to sod to construct their houses, and barns, and schools, and churches, and even hotels.  Lumber was expensive, but as soon as they could afford it the families built a new house.

Imagine you are living in a sod house and it begins to rain – hard and for days.  Many sod houses had sod roofs which leaked and soaked everything in the house: bedding, clothes, people.  If the floor was earthen, it was soon awash in mud.  Nothing like a good mud bath!

Here in Minnesota, there is still a sod house standing that is open to visitors.  It is 18 miles east of Walnut Grove, Minnesota (yes, that Walnut Grove of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame).  If you get a chance, stop in and experience what it was like to live in a sod house.

Next topic:  Where Did Teens Live? In a ship

For references and additional reading, click the Extras tab.

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